UPDATE March 19 – 2009 :Â N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue did not include cuts to CFCC’s Marine Tech program in her proposed budget, which is good news for the program. However, the budget still has to clear the house and senate before the budget is final.
WILMINGTON – Cape Fear Community College is sending out an S.O.S. to state lawmakers for the future of itâ€™s nationally-known Marine Technology program, one of the collegeâ€™s oldest and most successful two-year job-training programs.
In January 2009,Â Cape Fear Community CollegeÂ was informed by the leaders of the N.C. Community College SystemÂ that state funding for CFCCâ€™s Marine Technology ship operationsÂ may beÂ eliminated, effective fiscal year 2009 – 2010. The $571,000 in proposed cuts would eliminateÂ funding for maintenance, fuel, repairs, and supplies on the collegeâ€™s 85-foot ocean-going research vessel, the R/V DAN MOORE. Additionally, these funds support the costs associated with the 53-footÂ R/V MARTECH and theÂ fleet of small boats. Also paid from this line item are fiveÂ faculty salaries, including: the captain, chief engineer, assistant engineer, shipâ€™s scientific technician, and the dock superintendent.
â€œNow is not the time to be cutting any technical education programs, especially those that are vibrant and growing,â€ said CFCC President Eric McKeithan. Currently,Â the program is full, with 124 students enrolled in the program.Â Last fall, the department offered and filled all available seats in all courses and cruises.
â€œCommunity college programs like Marine Technology are part of the solution for our local citizens who need jobs and employers who need trained workers,â€ McKeithan added.
CFCCâ€™sÂ Marine Technology program is the only one of its kind on the east coastÂ and isÂ seen as a leader in marine education across the country.
According to college officials, this proposed cut wouldÂ end the Marine Technology program in its current form. CFCC Marine Technology program director Jason Rogers stated that if the cuts become a reality, CFCC would no longer be able to offer shipboard training, which makesÂ graduates attractive to employers all over the state and the country.
â€œOur shipboard training is what makes us unique. This hands-on, workforce training is the core of our program,â€ Rogers said.
In fact,Â graduates from four-year universities enroll in CFCC’s two-year Marine Technology program to get the hands-on experience needed to get a job.
Audra Burchfield, who graduated from UNCW’s Marine Biology program last May, enrolled at CFCC last fall for just that reason.
“When IÂ left UNCW and went out looking for a job,Â the employers I talked to wanted experience before they would hire me. I came to CFCC because their programÂ offers the hands-on training I’m looking for. It will open a lot of doors for me,” Audra said.
For Audra, the at-sea experienceÂ was invaluable and couldn’t haveÂ been simulated in the classroom. Before going to CFCC, the longestÂ she hadÂ been on a boat was 2 hours. WhenÂ she went out on her first marine technology cruise, it wasÂ first time she had beenÂ out of sight of land.Â During the two years at CFCC, students typically spend a total of 32 days at sea.
AudraÂ needed to know how she would react to being at sea, beforeÂ she got a job.
“I’m a hands-on leaner, soÂ to be on a shipÂ and apply what I’ve learned in the classroom really solidifies what I’ve already learned,” Audra said.
When at sea or onÂ smaller boats, studentsÂ learn a host of critical skills, including: hydrographic survey techniques, fisheries data collection, biological sampling and identification, wet chemistry and water analysis, boat handling and seamanship, navigation, oceanographic instrumentation and calibration, and data processing.
â€œMost importantly, students learn how to work safely at sea. Because of this training, offshore employers who hire our students report having almost zero attrition. AfterÂ two years on our vessels, students understand the commitment that is required to work at sea,â€ Rogers said.
This type of training makes CFCCâ€™s graduates very attractive to employers.Â Â CFCC graduates have the skills that are in demand today and will increasingly be in demand asÂ the state and nation are concerned about stressed fish stocks, global climate changes, energy exploration and recovery and water quality.
In addition to training students, CFCC’s research vesselsÂ and personnel provide essential supportÂ in various marine science projects with UNCW, the Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program, East Carolina University,Â and the Underwater Archeology Branch of the N.C. Dept of Cultural Resources. MostÂ notably, CFCC’s research vessel and crewÂ helped recover artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck projectÂ off the coast ofÂ Beaufort, NC.
Over the past month, students, graduates, faculty, staff and employers have been working to educate state lawmakersÂ about the value of the program and why itÂ needs to be spared from cuts.Â The college also exploring other sources of funding to keep the program afloat.